Lots of firsts, few issues, as schools open


It was the first day of classes for David (Alex) Salgago, a kindergartener at John Brown Francis School.

He quickly identified his seat, marked with a David S., and followed the instructions of teacher Pam Dwyer to retrieve his snack – popcorn – from his backpack and place it in a plastic bin at the center of the table he shared with other students.

His parents, as well as the parents of many of the students, watched from a distance, occasionally waving for moral support and recording the moment with their cell phones.

There were a few tears and anxious moments, but Alex put on a brave face and waited.

Students across the city returned to class yesterday, the exceptions being eighth graders and high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Classes for those students start this morning.

For Amanda Farrell, it was her first day at Pilgrim High School. She felt a bit lost in the sprawling school, but Madison Almonte, a junior, was at her side to answer questions and help. She ushered her into the guidance office where Amanda got her class schedule and then back into the corridor to get her to a classroom.

Playing the role of guide wasn’t all that easy for Madison, who twisted her foot during soccer practice and was on crutches. She was dressed in a pink T-shirt like more than 100 Pilgrim student leaders who had chosen to cut their summer vacation short by a day to make it easier for incoming freshmen. The pink shirts seemed to outnumber the incoming students, so there was no lack of assistance.

As for David Cluff, yesterday was a day of meeting parents and getting to know the names of John Brown Francis School students. He is the school’s new principal, all the way from Lone Rock Elementary in Stevensville, Mont., where he was principal and superintendent.

“I was fortunate enough to get this great school,” Cluff said yesterday, as parents and students congregated in the yard for the 8:35 bell.

Cluff has a diversified background, having worked as a teacher, school administrator and businessman. He has also worked in different areas of the country and came to Rhode Island to live on family property in Charlestown.

“It’s comforting to go to a school where teachers are embracing change,” he said.

In particular, he cited the Response to Intervention, or RTI, that the district is applying this year. He said teachers would meet daily to identify what their students lack and then collectively look at how to address those issues.

“We’re getting down to the sub-skills of what kids are missing,” he said.

Also new is Oakland Beach School Principal Paul Heatherton, who comes to Warwick from Orchard Farms School in Cranston. Other administrative changes include: Dr. Colleen Mercurio, principal at Cedar Hill; Joseph Coffey, principal at Holliman; Donna Zannelli, assistant principal at Winman; John Livsey, principal at Aldrich; Scott Shepherd, assistant principal at Gorton; and David Tober, acting assistant principal at Toll Gate.

Over at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, Principal Gerry Habershaw seemed pleased with the first day of school for his newest freshmen class.

“So far, it’s been pretty good,” he said.

One point he did make was that this year’s freshmen class was noticeably smaller, with only 214 students. In the past, Habershaw recalls Vets welcoming almost 350 freshmen.

“You can definitely see the decline in population,” said Habershaw.

The newest “Hurricanes” were able to visit each of their classrooms and have an introductory period with their teacher. To help them get around the many hallways, a number of older students and faculty were on hand to direct students.

“So far, they are getting around,” said Habershaw, adding that having just the freshmen that day really helps to get them accustomed.

Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen also said the first day was going well and no real issues had come up.

“So far, so good,” he said. “We are delighted by schools starting today.

Mullen also said there were very few lines for any students with registration issues or the like, crediting the new centralized enrollment for streamlining the system.

By having new students register at the administration building on Warwick Avenue, Mullen said the duties were taken off the school secretaries and the procedure was made standard across all schools.

“It’s being done the same way,” said Mullen. “Consistency is the key.”

He said there are about 300 students transferring into the system and Deborah Cabral, who manages the registration, was still busy yesterday as parents dropped off the proper paperwork to have their kids enrolled in Warwick.

Mullen also said no emergency changes or issues in school transportation had been reported yet and he hoped that would remain the case when all students report today.


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